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短期外派正当时,成本收益两相宜

Elizabeth G. Olson 2011年08月08日

跟在巴黎的公费派遣说再见吧。眼下,为了检验新晋领导者的适用能力和韧劲,许多公司都喜欢将他们派往新兴市场磨练一番。

    对于冉冉升起的管理层新星们来说,海外任职的机会可以说是充满诱惑力的额外奖励。在海外工作几年时间,而且大部分时候是公司出钱,这听起来几乎就跟公费度假一样完美。

    但有一些公司在外派职员时,采取了一些新的做法。它们开始将员工派驻海外参与短期项目,让他们暂时离开如鱼得水的环境,以此来检验他们的工作效率和适应能力。

    当然,公司依然会把一些高管派往类似巴黎这样迷人的地方,但短期项目通常都在新兴市场,因为这里将是公司扩大业务的战场。有些公司甚至会借鉴传教士的做法,派员工参加慈善活动,顺带替公司做宣传。

    比如,IBM公司就通过“企业全球志愿者服务队”(Corporate Service Corps)项目将新晋领导者们派往非洲和其他发展中国家,目的是要检验这些经理人如何在陌生环境中开展业务,如何与来自不同背景的人合作,并与当地的决策者们建立良好关系,为未来的业务拓展打下坚实的基础。

    IBM负责商业与技术领导力的副总裁汤姆•韦恩斯表示:“这些都是运营跨国企业所必须的。领导力不仅仅是一次培训,也不仅仅是一次网络研讨会那么简单。”

    在挑选候选人参与教育、医疗和经济发展等领域的一系列项目之前,IBM会对员工的绩效和领导能力进行审查。IBM曾将团队派往埃及、印度、肯尼亚和尼日利亚,在这些地区,科技巨头IBM发展势头强劲。

    去年三月份,来自美国波士顿的IBM经理约翰•弗戴迪参加了一个前往肯尼亚的团队,该团队与肯尼亚邮政公司(Postal Corporation of Kenya)合作开展了一个为期一个月的公益活动咨询项目。

    弗戴迪称:“我们的目标是与邮政公司合作,在它为客户提供的服务中增加金融服务项目。我们最终为它制定了一个发展规划图,这样邮政公司可以增加一些其他服务,比如签发护照等。现在人们还需要在政府部门排队领取签证,而邮政公司增加这项服务后可以充分利用它遍布肯尼亚全国的网点。”

    他说,他需要将团队的计划提交给邮政公司的全国委员会,并说服他们,“如果你们不改变对(公司)的思路,最终它会被时代所抛弃。不过,跟他们说这种话可得冒很大的风险。”

时间太短,效果打折还是恰到好处?

    自从三年前启动以来,IBM的企业全球志愿者服务队已经派出了1,200名员工,在23个不同国家参与了100多个项目。而且这种模式也被其他公司采用或借鉴,比如道康宁公司(Dow Corning)和联邦快递公司(FedEx)。

    很少有项目能达到IBM的规模——IBM每年挑选出来参与项目的员工大约有500人。每个团队通常由8到12名成员组成,他们花三个月的时间准备行程,一个月的时间在现场,两个月的时间返回总部,总结工作,并与其他同事分享外派的经历,通常是通过博客和公开交流的方式。

    许多公司认为,这些短期海外项目能帮助他们应对日益全球化的工作环境,但领导力开发专家的看法却莫衷一是。

    哈佛大学高级领导力计划(Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative)主任罗莎贝丝•M•坎特对这种短期项目大加赞扬,认为这种项目“以符合成本效益的方式,培养了多元化团队的技能和人脉。”

    她认为,IBM的模式“反映了人们日益普遍的工作方式:深入到新环境中。这要求他们迅速地学习和反应,并迅速调整以适应不同的风格和文化。”

    不过,坎特认为这种方式有一个缺点,那就是“人们无法像长期任职那样更深入地了解一个国家。”坎特著有《超级公司:顶尖企业如何带来创新、利润、成长与社会公益》(Super Corp, How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good)一书。

    她补充道:“但他们掌握了如何了解一个国家的方法。而且这些项目通常都需要有所创新,而常规商务工作中不可能激发这种创新。”

如果将成本计算在内会如何?

    短期的海外项目使公司既能为新晋经理人提供领导力体验经历,同时又能避免长期派驻海外给员工家庭生活带来的动荡以及巨额的跨国安家费用。

    研究还发现,结束海外任职返回总部的高管离职率较高,而且他们会发现自己与公司的管理层无法保持一致,或与公司总部的文化格格不入。致力于全球人员安置服务的Brookfield公司2010年度趋势调查显示,在接受调查的高管中,有38%的人在从海外任职返回总部后第一年便离开了公司。

    咨询公司Fisher-Rock的主理合伙人迈克尔•巴菲特认为,为每位员工量身设计相关的工作体验经历才是关键。Fisher-Rock咨询公司致力于机构改革与人才管理。他强调:“现在企业界有向短期任务转变的趋势,并且会针对每位员工的特点定制不同的体验项目。”

    全球咨询公司美世(Mercer)董事海格•纳班提恩表示,公司并不会很快就放弃传统的海外派遣,因为这种方式可以帮助公司快速解决世界不同地区人才匮乏问题。

    纳班提恩称:“但我们发现,鉴于这类外派方式成本高昂,公司对最终的效果越来越担忧。我们近期的一些客户表示,计划代之以更短期限的外派任务……公司必须实现平衡。”

    负责美世公司北美迁移业务的艾德•汉尼巴尔也同意这种说法:“这对每家公司来说都非常困难。”他表示,在去年的调查中,462位美世公司客户中,有30%称他们采用的是短期外派任务。

慈善项目稍有不同

    联邦快递公司在借鉴IBM的领导力项目基础上,推出了自己的项目。公司人力资源部经理苔丝•史密斯表示,公司近期在巴西完成了新全球领导力志愿者队项目(Global Leadership Corps)的试点。该项目将“和平工作与商业活动有机结合。”

    史密斯表示,在此次项目中,联邦快递的员工帮助巴西东北部的非裔年轻人准备大学入学考试,教授他们英语,并帮助他们获得奖学金。

    不过,此次项目的候选人必须是大有潜力的执行者,并经过提名和推荐——这一审查程序与IBM类似。但史密斯强调,联邦快递的项目“并不像IBM那样直接。虽然项目也以推广公司品牌为目的,但项目的目的并非为了获得新的业务。”

    道康宁公司去年也开始了自己的项目,当时公司在印度班加罗尔启动了一个厨具技术项目,使员工有机会了解在新兴市场的工作情况。

    该公司的全球人力资源总监艾德•考伯特表示:“国际领导力体验经历非常重要,人们都希望参与。去年,有100位主管级的员工提出了申请,但只有10人有幸入选。”

    “不论是短期还是长期外派任务,只要员工能(走出)习以为常的环境,这本身就具有宝贵的价值。对于员工来说,关键在于体验。”

    (翻译 刘进龙)

    For rising managerial stars, an overseas assignment can be a glamorous perk. Spending a few years abroad, largely on the company dime, sounds almost as good as a paid vacation. Almost.

    But some corporations are taking a new approach to the overseas assignment and have begun to send employees abroad to work on short-term projects as a means to test how they work, and adapt, outside their comfort zones.

    Companies still send executives to attractive locales like Paris, but short-term projects are often based in emerging markets where companies are looking to expand. Some businesses are even taking a page from the missionary's playbook, sending employees on charitable assignments with the side goal of promoting their business.

    IBM (IBM), for example, is sending its budding leaders to Africa and other developing markets through its Corporate Service Corps program, with the goal of seeing how these managers how operate in unfamiliar surroundings, work with people from different backgrounds, and lay the groundwork for future business by developing relationships with local decision-makers.

    "This is part of operating a global enterprise," says Tom Vines, vice president of business and technology leadership for IBM. "Leadership has to be more than just a class and more than just a webinar."

    IBM vets its employees for performance and leadership qualities before selecting candidates to work on an array of projects in areas such as education, health care, and economic development. IBM has sent teams to Egypt, India, Kenya, and Nigeria, all strong growth regions for the technology giant.

    In Kenya, John Fredette, a Boston-based IBM manager, joined a team last March for a month-long pro-bono consulting project with the Postal Corporation of Kenya.

    "Our goal was to work with the postal corporation to add financial services to what it offers customers," says Fredette. "We ended up giving them a roadmap so the postal corporation can add services like issuing passports, which people now wait in line for at government offices, to make better use of their locations around the country."

    He had to present the team's plan to the Postal Corporation's national board to persuade them, he says, "that if you don't change the [company] mindset, it will become irrelevant. It was dicey to say that to them."

Too short for its own good or just right?

    Since its launch three years ago, IBM's Corporate Service Corps has sent 1,200 employees to participate in more than 100 projects in 23 different countries. And its model has been adopted or adapted by other corporations like Dow Corning and FedEx (FDX).

    Few programs are as large as IBM's, which selects around 500 employees to participate each year. The teams, usually between eight and 12 members, spend three months preparing for their trip, a month on location, and two months back at their home office wrapping up their work and sharing their experiences with other IBMers, typically through blog posts and public appearances.

    Many companies argue that these short-term projects abroad help them respond to the demands of an increasingly global work environment, but leadership development experts have given mixed reviews to this approach.

    Rosabeth M. Kanter, director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, praises such short-term projects as "cost-effective ways to build skills and relationships in a diverse team."

    IBM's model, she says, "mirrors the way people increasingly work: thrust into new situations that require them to learn and react fast while adjusting quickly to different styles and cultures."

    A drawback, notes Kanter, who wrote Super Corp, How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good, is that: "People don't learn a country in depth the way they would on a longer-term assignment.

    "But they learn how to learn about countries," she adds. And, "sometimes the projects demand innovation that isn't possible in more routine business work."

Taking the costs into account

    Briefer assignments also allow companies to provide leadership experience to upcoming managers without the family disruption and major relocation expenses of a long-term international move.

    Also, studies have found that there is a high rate of departure for executives that return from assignments abroad and find themselves off the management track or out of sync with the culture at company headquarters. Brookfield Global Relocation Services' annual trends survey for 2010 found that 38% of executives surveyed left their companies in the first year after their return from an assignment abroad.

    Devising a relevant experience for each employee is key, says Michel Buffet, a managing partner at Fisher-Rock Consulting, which specializes in organization change and talent management. "There's a trend toward moving to short assignments, and customizing the experience for each employee," he notes.

    Still, companies are not likely to abandon traditional overseas assignments any time soon as it allows companies to quickly address talent shortages in different parts of the world, says Haig Nalbantian, a director at Mercer, the global consulting firm.

    "But we are seeing more concern at companies about the impact, given the high costs such moves incur," says Nalbantian. "A number of recent clients have talked to us about substituting shorter term assignments…. It has to be a balance."

    "It's a struggle for every company," agrees Ed Hannibal, who leads Mercer's North American mobility practice. In a survey last year, some 30% of some 462 Mercer clients said they were using shorter term assignments, he says.

Charity with a twist

    FedEx is launching its own take on IBM's leadership program. The company recently completed a pilot program in Brazil for its new Global Leadership Corps which "marries the Peace Corps with business," says Tess Smith, a human resources manager for the company.

    During this particular project, FedEx employees helped Afro-Brazilian youth in Northeast Brazil prepare for college-entrance exams, teaching English and helping them obtain scholarships, according to Smith.

    Candidates had to be nominated and recommended as high potential performers -- a vetting process similar to IBM's. But Smith notes that the FedEx program "is much less direct than IBM's. It does promote our brand, but it's not set up to get new business."

    Dow Corning Corp. began its own program last year, starting with a cook stove technology project in Bangalore, India, to give its employees a chance to learn about working in emerging markets.

    "International leadership experience is valuable, and people want to sign up," says Ed Colbert, the company's global director of talent management. Last year, 100 director-level employees applied and 10 were selected to participate.

    "Short or long-term, it's much more valuable if an employee [goes] outside his normal comfort zone. The key for the employee is immersion."

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